Henry Chettle (1564? – 1607?) was an English dramatist and miscellaneous writer of the Elizabethan era.
The son of Robert Chettle, a London dyer, he was apprenticed in 1577 and became a member of the Stationer's Company in 1584, traveling to Cambridge on their behalf in 1588. His career as a printer and author is shadowy. He may have set up some of the tracts printed in response to Martin Marprelate. In 1591, he entered into partnership with William Hoskins and John Danter, two stationers. They published a good many ballads, and some plays, including a surreptitious and botched first quarto of Romeo and Juliet, to which it is suggested Chettle added lines and stage directions.
In 1592 Greene’s Groatsworth of wyt, supposedly the work of the recently deceased, and very popular, Robert Greene, was published, having been entered in the register of the Stationer's Company "at the peril of Henry Chettle". This offended several contemporary writers including Christopher Marlowe, and has a reference, which has been interpreted as a reference to William Shakespeare. Although he denied it in the preface to his Kind Herts Dreame, published soon after, Chettle was widely suspected of having been the author, and modern textual analysis supports this suspicion. It would not be the only occasion when there is reason to believe that Chettle passed off his own work under another author’s name. In contrast when printed plays with which we know Chettle was associated did not identify him as the author, which suggests his reputation was not great.
He seems to have been generally in debt, judging from numerous entries in Philip Henslowe's diary of advances for various purposes, on one occasion (January 17, 1599) to pay his expenses in the Marshalsea prison, on another (March 7, 1603) to get his play out of pawn. He made a greater number of small borrowings from Henslowe than any other person. These and Henslowe’s casual records of them suggest some friendship between them.
Henslowe lists payments to him for thirty-six plays between 1598 and 1603, and he may been involved in as many as fifty plays, although only a dozen seem to be his alone. Chettle had regular association with Henry Porter, John Dekker, and after 1600 with John Day. Of the thirteen plays usually attributed to Chettle's sole authorship only one was printed. This was The Tragedy of Hoffmann: or a Revenge for a Father (played 1602; printed 1631), a share in which Fleay assigns to Thomas Heywood. It has been suggested that this piece was put forward as a rival to Shakespeare's Hamlet.
There is evidence that Chettle contributed to the play The Book of Sir Thomas More (c. 1592–1593); Piers Plainnes Seaven Yeres Prentiship, the story of a fictitious apprenticeship in Crete and Thrace, appeared in 1595. As early as 1598 Francis Meres includes Chettle in his Palladis Tamia as one of the "best for comedy," and between that year and 1603 he wrote or collaborated in some forty-nine pieces.
One of the plays on which Chettle collaborated is listed as The Danish Tragedy, which was probably either identical with Hoffmann or another version of the same story. The Pleasant Comedie of Patient Grissill (1599), in which he collaborated with Thomas Dekker and William Haughton, was reprinted by the Shakespeare Society in 1841. It contains the lyric "Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers," which is probably Dekker's.
In November 1599 Chettle received ten shillings for "mending" the first part of "Robin Hood," - The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, by Anthony Munday; and in the second part, which followed soon after and was printed in 1601, The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntingdon, he collaborated with Munday. Both plays are printed in Robert Dodsley's Select Collection of Old English Plays (ed. William Hazlitt, vol. viii). In 1602 he seems to have been writing for both Worcester's Company and the Admiral's, despite signing a bond to write exclusively for the latter. In 1603 Chettle published England's Mourning Garment, in which are included some verses alluding to the chief poets of the time.
He died before 1607, when Dekker in his Knight's Conjurer described him joining the poets in Elysium: “in comes Chettle sweating and blowing by reason of his fatness”.